Too Pure Singles Christmas

Too Pure Singles Club – Seize the Chair / Best Friends 7″ (2013)

Too Pure Singles Club
Buy: Please don’t buy them all before I get some money together.

Wow. Garage rock Christmas heaven with Seize the Chair and Best Friends. I had seen this 7″ posted here and there, but hadn’t had a chance to really listen to it yet. I will not waste any more of your time – the listen links are below.

Bottom Line: HOLY $%^&. One of my favorite Christmas releases.  5/5

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Goldenbread cover

Annie Hall / Gonzo48K – Goldenbread (2007)

Pipolla Music
Buy: CD (Italy)

High hopes are never a good place to start. Though I know you should never judge a book by its cover, a swedish indie pop band named Annie Hall checks three of my boxes: Swedish, indiepop and a Woody Allen reference. How could it go wrong? Well, first off, this thing was a huge pain to get ahold of. You can’t order from the label (they do not ship to the US), and thus I had to get it from France, and pay more in shipping than the CD cost. Not looking good already, because if you know this blog, cost to obtain certainly plays into the overall rating.

Annie Hall begins the disc with “Morning News,” a fine-enough little song that I can’t for the life of me figure out how its seasonal. Their second song, “Walk Around,” does begin with “It’s Christmas time / Here’s an old song / for a new year.” They also mention snowballs… but really, its a bit of a downer right out of the gate with the dour music. Not something I really want to listen to again. Bummer.

Gonzo48K is the Japanese wildcard of this release – I really had no expectations, as I don’t listen to much Japanese indiepop. “Snowman’s Tears” has the kind of music that I wish Annie Hall had – upbeat, poppy, certainly in a Swede-pop vein. The lyrics, well… “So darling / You make me colder / you make me older / you close my folder?” Not exactly what I’m looking for, but really, english is their second language and they write better songs in English than I do in Japanese. “Turn off the Radio” is a much better attempt. It may even be on a shortlist for future mixes… I dig the backing beat, and the lyrics are much better: “Walk through the street light / in the Christmas time / Back to the starlight / Where the children write / Turn off the Radio / Turn off the Radio.” Still not quite telling a story, but certainly evocative when complimented by the contemplative backing track. I can’t find it posted anywhere, but you can preview 30 seconds of it on Last.fm.

Bottom Line: Good luck trying to buy it, especially in the US. Certainly not worth the price it cost to import, with only one possible song. Loses points for all the wrong reasons. 1.2/5

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Peaks "Love"

Peaks “Xmas Song” (2012)

Sober & Gentle
Buy: RoW (as in… not available in the US, barely available to the world)

Did you enjoy Cocoon? Because if you did, you may like Peaks. Why? Because its one half of Cocoon (Morgane Imbeaud) singing a song that has nearly the same name! Officially released on their debut mini-album, Love, this song was also promoted as a Christmas gift from Peaks last year. I do not believe it was ever available for free download though…

As you can imagine, the music is quite lovely. It is unavoidable for a band associated with Morgane Imeaud. Now lets take a stab at the lyrics… if you guessed dark, you guessed right! The song finds the lead character lamenting how wonderful it would be if they were still in love and stuck inside together, while crying that her love is not there and not coming back again. So bring that mix back down to earth with this fuzzy little Christmas dirge.

Bottom Line: You guessed it. I’m a fan. Loses points because of the extreme lengths you may have to go through to actually purchase this song. Sober & Gentle will not ship to the US, and I can’t find it on Amazon/iTunes. 4.2/5

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Silent Night, Tiny Lights

Silent Night, Tiny Lights (2012)

Tiny Lights
Buy: Bandcamp

A generally solid compilation with some definite highlights, but keep in mind one can’t be toooo tough on something that benefits kids. I was able to get ahold of one of the very-limited CD versions of this release, though consider that a personal failing of mine (the urge for the physical object, not just buying bytes). I bought it on spec… I think there were only about 100 or so, and the price was not more than the download if I remember correctly… bonus points for that.

This is a big one (19 tracks), so were are really only going to go through the highlights:

The Futureheads‘ “Christmas Was Better in the 80s” came out a few years ago, but remains a personal favorite. This is a nice bonus, being that I had only been able to previously purchase an MP3, and have now since upgraded to CD/FLAC. Certainly mix-worthy, and if you live in the states, you may even impress a friend or two who haven’t heard it and/or have no clue who the Futureheads are.

Blank Maps‘ “Stollen” is the kind of track that I like to have about 3/4 through the disc, slow, pretty and dramatic. Perhaps I haven’t listened closely enough yet… but having a tough time connecting it to Christmas though. Lionhall’s “Angel” falls into the same category. Loose if any Christmas connection at all, with the same pace and beauty. These are not necessarily something I would put on a mix, but certainly better songs than most.

The Railway Club slow down “Baby, Please Come Home” with excellent results. Acoustic guitars, an organ, bass, jingle bells (perhaps a mandolin too) and nice harmonies created a nice warm atmosphere. The original overpowers with a wall of sound, while this version invites you in for some cocoa.

A Woman of No Importance‘s “That’ll be Christmas” is one of the more interesting originals covers on the record. Thea Gilmore’s tune is very engaging; the lyrics can be funny or sad, sentimental or daft, all within one verse. I have not heard the original yet, but will no doubt do so. Certainly worth a listen. (Thanks for the clarification onedaywhen. Feel free to throw some listening suggestions my way too!)

Fawn Spots‘ “Santa Won’t Get Away with it This Year,” is noise rock with synths, and it works. Certainly something to consider for your Christmas mix, if you need something to up the pace. I know that I’ve had years where I was scrounging for something that wasn’t mid-to-low tempo and pretty… just hoping to find that dirty rock n’ roll to spice it up a bit. If I remember correctly, they also won Fat Cat Records Christmas song contest with this song as well.

While there are still some very listenable other tracks on the disc, these are the main ones that I wanted to call out. I just can’t do track-by-track for 19 tracks. I have a baby, and there just isn’t enough time in the day.

Bottom Line: Some good stuff, but only 2-3 songs that I would consider mix-worthy (and one of them has already been on one). 3.5/5

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Avalanche Records’ Alternative Christmas (2009)

Avalanche Records (Edinburgh)
Buy: Good luck!

One of the biggest challenges with reviewing Christmas records, is that so many are released to benefit charities. I certainly don’t want to crap all over a record that benefits sick kids, and thankfully, I don’t have to.

Avalanche Records in Edinburgh, Scotland released a very DIY Christmas record back in 2009. Simply titled Alternative Christmas, this compilation features mainly Scottish artists each submitting an original song, with only a few exceptions. So, for those out there who love originals (like me), this is a good start.

I originally purchased this to have an audio master for There Will Be Fireworks‘ “In Excelsis Deo,” which is a dramatic, and fantastic song; a perfect ending to my 2010 Christmas Mix. This used to be the only place you could buy this track, and of course it has since been released elsewhere. Fellow dramatic Scots Frightened Rabbit also lend their (by now) classic track, “Its Christmas So We’ll Stop.” I think this may be the only official CD release of the track, beyond a promo that they sent to radio stations back in 2008.

A large chunk of this record is terribly sad. The Savings and Loan contribute a serviceable cover of the Palace Brothers’ lament “Christmastime in the Mountains,” but it does not improve upon the original – which is a must if you are going to perform it in a similar style. Withered Hand gives us an emotional “Its a Wonderful Lie,” and while it certainly has its moments, it is just too dreary for me. Really, this one could be you favorite tune on the record if you really love a Christmas dirge. Another rather brutal, but well-done song is the Phil Ochs tune, “No Christmas in Kentucky”, retitled “Christmas in Kirkcaldy,” and performed by Meursault. Scots singing about the Southeast United States… and the poverty that is Appalachia. I have heard it all.

Two final tracks that are certainly worth a listen are Emily Scott‘s “Holy,” and X-Lion Tamer‘s stab at Beck’s “Little Drum Machine Boy.” Both are done well, and “Holy” is an extremely pretty, sparse folk song with excellent vocal layers.

Bottom Line: Can be quite sad, but has a higher percentage of good songs than most comps out there. 3.8/5

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[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oMlpRJf1iSE]
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jw9MMvdol9Q]

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12 Days of Christmas cover

12 Days of Christmas (2009)

Bubblewrap Collective
Buy: CD | Bandcamp

The concept is intriguing. 12 bands were selected and given 31 days to write and record a song, each based on a particular day in the “12 Days of Christmas.” It was intriguing enough to compel me to preorder it many moons ago. As with nearly every single Christmas compilation, there is a WIDE variety of quality on this record. The tracks that rise above the rest are all female-fronted indie bands – one might think that I have a type. The first notable track is “Five Golden Rings from the Hi Five Kings” by The Rocky Nest. They have a great musical aesthetic – everything works well together. The second track I would like to highlight is “Silver Swans in NYC” by Allo, Darlin’ (Look them up – they put out a fantastic record this year). This was the one I was anticipating… and perhaps it was that anticipation that raised the expectations a bit too high. Its a lovely little song… but for some reason I wish it was a more fleshed-out production. There are a few other tracks on there that are ok, but largely, I was not a huge fan.

Bottom Line: So much potential, but not enough quality payoff. 2/5

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Fantasia de Navidad cover

Fantasia De Navidad (2002)

Siesta
Buy: Discogs (CD) | Amazon.uk (CD)

If you want an entire record of very, very, very pretty indie pop, then Fantasia de Navidad is for you. I find very little fault with the efforts of these Siesta recording artists – they have pleasant music, and interesting lyrics. There is also a calypso? thread that runs through the record, popping up into the forefront at times. There It is perhaps a little too pure indie pop for what I am looking for on my own personal mix (or to subject to party guests). I am just not that skinny and beautiful, while somehow melancholy and well dressed, to pull it off.

Of particular note, Admiral Achilles’ “East of the Country” (at certain times) sounds like it could very well be Elvis Costello in disguise, perhaps going indie pop in between his Burt Bacharach and country music phases. Their second track on the album, “Christmas,” sounds like Mark Kozelek… specifically with his vocal phrasing, as well as the general tone. I can’t pin that band down…

This one is tough to come by… to read more about it, check out Siesta’s discography.

(A quick afterthought – this CD comes in a regular version, as well as an ultra-limited, wooden CD case version with the cover impressed upon it. Crazy.)

Bottom Line: Do you LOVE indie pop? If you do, add 2 points on to my score. 2.8/5

Merry Christmas from Bella Union cover

Merry Christmas from Bella Union (2006)

Bella Union
Buy: Good Luck!

Back in 2006, I blogged about this great little 3″ CD I was picking up… and boy was I excited. I had a right to be. This tiny, 3″ CD packs quite a punch. Three tracks, all worthwile, highlighted by the absolutely splendid tune by My Latest Novel, “Outside it’s Christmas.” My Christmas mix had a bit of a Scottish flair that year – I believe it had Frightened Rabbit on it as well. Robert Gomez & Eric Pulido (both of Midlake) were at the height of their powers, and present an extremely enjoyable version of “Feliz Navidad,” one of two versions of the songs that I particularly enjoy. Devics haunting rendition of “Silent Night,” is interesting enough to not be a bore, though I probably would never include it on my mix… just because I don’t think the song fits what I’m going for.

This disc is nearly impossible to hunt down… don’t pay an arm & a leg, but give it a shot.

Bottom Line: Hunt down that My Latest Novel track, and you’ve got a surefire winner. 4.3/5

EDITDid My Latest Novel find my post and decide to upload it to their Soundcloud account? I doubt it… but it is rather fortuitous that it was posted there yesterday… and that does look my scan of the cover art! Be sure to listen to the song all the way through – the latter half is fantastic!

Laura Marling - Goodbye England cover

Laura Marling – Goodbye England (Covered in Snow) (2009)

Virgin
Buy: 7″ | iTunes

I originally heard Laura Marling perform this song on a Youtube video, a year before she released it officially (see below). Performing at the amazing folk collective Communion Christmas show, this glimpse into what would be her incredible second record left me in awe. It then popped up on the BBC in a live set about a month before the official single was released, and if you hunt that one down, you will not be disappointed. The official single is a one-sided 7″, and extremely limited. If you are a collector, you would do yourself a favor to hunt it down. The same version can be found on her sophomore release, I Speak Because I Can, as well as a live version on the 2-CD deluxe edition of Creature I Don’t Know and the Live from York Minster 2LP release.

I have to say… perhaps my #1 Christmas release wish, is for Communion to put out a nice live recording of one of these shows…

Bottom Line: A classic. 5/5

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKFT-heAf_s]
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rt1dmt-Zqyc]

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Glasvegas - A Snowflake Fell cover

Glasvegas – A Snowflake Fell (And It Felt Like a Kiss) (2008)

Columbia
Buy: Discogs (CD) | iTunes
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So, yes, they are on a major label. However, talk to most people in America, and ask them if they know who Glasvegas are, and you may be asking around a good bit. This is unfortunate – because they put out a very solid debut, and an absolutely stellar Christmas EP, A Snowflake Fell (And it Felt Like a Kiss).

I honestly do not have a song that I do not care for on this EP – though I do have some favorites. Standouts are “Fuck You, It’s Over,” “Please Come Back Home,” and the title track, “A Snowflake Fell (And it Felt Like a Kiss).” Two of those tracks have made my personal Christmas mixes (not in the same year), and one is always in the running… though likely less so as I will soon have a child in the house.

Available as a second disc in a special edition-version of their debut, it was also given away at indie record stores in the US. Hunt one down for about $10 and you are doing splendidly.

Bottom Line: A fantastic, moody Scottish rock record that I could listen to (and do) outside the holiday season. 5/5

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